After the Oscars, on Sunday night, came the British Poker Awards, on the very next night, held in London’s Hippodrome Casino. Both, of course, are a celebration of hard work, craftsmanship, skill, perseverance and, above all, convincing acting. But whereas at the Oscars they have to strike up the band to close down the tearful acceptance speeches – and even then, this year director Pawel Pawlikowski famously continued regardless – poker players are not renowned for their public wit and native charisma.
“Just a little hint,” host Michael Caselli, the Editor-in-Chief of Bluff Europe Magazine, was reduced to saying in frustration, “if you’re nominated you might just want to think of preparing a little something to say.”
There was no such problem with TV/ radio presenter, writer and poker pro Victoria Coren Mitchell, however, which made it especially welcome that she walked home with no less than three awards. “I feel it’s a bit unfair because I have four different jobs and so I have more followers,” she said of her Social Media award and quarter-of-a-million-strong Twitter account. Caselli told her that the other nominees thought she was a worthy winner. “The other nominees are terrible, so it’s not surprising,” said Vicky, with what we trust was mean-the-opposite British banter. You don’t get that at the Oscars.
Victoria Coren Mitchell also won Poker Personality of the Year: “In 15 years I have never won a personality award,” she commented drily, “which given how much I talk means people have gone, ‘I have experienced your personality, and that’s a no.’”
And finally Vicky won Performance of the Year for winning the EPT Sanremo. In 2006 she had become the first woman to win the EPT main event; last year she became the first person to win it twice. “I played that tour like I do every other,” she said, “hoping I don’t get knocked out in the first 15 minutes like at EPT Coventry! I think I was the shortest stack from 24 players down to three. I never, ever, expect to do well. My goals in poker have been the same for 20 years: I hope to turn a nice profit, while vaguely being a nice person and not screwing people over too much.”
It’s as good a life philosophy as any, and got the biggest cheer of the night. I whooped louder than anyone: it was Victoria Coren Mitchell who introduced me to Texas Hold ‘Em, over ten years ago, when fellow journo Jon Ronson took me to her home game. I’ve been hooked ever since. You can read my interview with Victoria Coren Mitchell here.
But the night was far from over. There was still a 50-player freeroll, with top pros providing a bounty. Jake Cody, a man with over $4 million in tournament winnings to his name (and who won Best Blogger), was drawn on my table, and did the coolest thing I have ever seen a bounty celeb do. In two hours he played just two hands, both all-in. The first time I nearly called with A6 suited, but as they couldn’t tell me what the bounty actually was (“a goodie bag”) I couldn’t work out if it was a good play or not. On his next all-in, an hour later, I had pocket 10s with about three times his stack size, and called.
Jake turned over mathematically the very worst starting hand in poker: seven-deuce! That’s why he was taking his time. I can imagine him folding Aces, Kings, AK, going “Nope, too good, it’s unfair to knock some poor player out. I’ll wait for a truly awesomely terrible hand so they can claim the bounty.” My pocket 10s had him crushed, but Cody’s not the pro for nothing: he somehow got a 7 on the flop, followed by a 2 on the turn for two pair.
I still had a decent stack, however, big enough to make a cool play. I have 89 in the small blind. It’s limped round to me on the button, so I call. Four players in the hand, including one who is all-in for just under the 2k big blind. The flop is 4,10,J, with two hearts. I have an open-ended straight draw, so I call a 4k raise on the flop, as does the big blind. The turn is a scare card: the Ace of hearts. It might give someone a pair of Aces, or a heart flush. We all check. The river is no help. It’s checked to me again, so without hesitation I push my remaining stack into the centre: just 6k. The total pot is 20k, 12k of which is the side-pot — more than enough to make it worth stealing when I know the other two are weak.
The other two players dwell, and finally fold. The all-in turns over an Ace regretfully, saying, “I’m sure you have this crushed.” I smile and turn over my 8 high. “I only wanted to steal the side-pot,” I say, and rake in my 6k plus 12k.
“That’s a great move,” laughs Jake Cody. “Because of the all-in player and the size of the pot, the other players have to think it can never be a bluff. I’ll remember that one.”
And though I eventually bust out in 14th place with AK vs QJ (amazingly, not to former Full Tilt pro Sin Melin, who always seems to knock me out of these things), I am happy. I’ve played in tournaments against some of the world’s greatest poker pros – Gus Hansen, Liv Boeree, “Jesus” Ferguson, Victoria Coren Mitchell, Antonio Esfandiari – but I’ve never before impressed one.
Just one final word: during the night I got chatting to loads of great people, including the CCO of Ranking Hero, a new site that launched here in November as a social media hub for poker players, and the tournament director of the Redtooth pub poker league, which every May takes 100 amateur players to Vegas for the World Series. Both are to be commended for bringing the fun back to poker; check them out.
For the full list of British Poker Awards winners, see Bluff Europe Magazine.